Gut Check: Are You Destroying Employee Engagement?

I read an article in the Gallup Management Journal recently on engaging disengaged employees. One quote truly piqued my interest. Fraser Longden, head of talent and engagement for Kingfisher PLC, said: “When our employees saw that as a company we were facing up to the real problems and communicating them, then they came with us.”

I have been a part of “Corporate America” for over 20 years and I have alw always amazed at the amount of time, money, and resources that are put into “spinning” a positive message. I understand the value of good external PR, but I’m speaking of internal spinning.

One of the corporations that I worked for had a quarterly meeting where the CEO had a live broadcast to discuss company financials. Even though we went through some tough times, it was interesting that the quarterly report he gave us was never “bad.” He even went so far in one report to say that, “Even though the stock dropped by X% this quarter, that is a good thing because it didn’t drop as much as we thought it might.”


I don’t know why he would always come out with a “spin” on the numbers. Maybe he was trying to make us feel better, or maybe it was just an ego thing. Regardless, after participating in just a few of these meetings, anyone with a pulse began to check out and treat it solely as a formality to attend. As a result, something that could have been a great source for honest and real communication, became not only a joke, but truly disengaging.

The point is that the people you lead, and all the other people sitting in the seats for meetings like this, are not stupid. They know the state of the company, perhaps better than you do. They see what is going on in the building, on the floor, or in the break room every day. Saying, “We’re doing fine” is not fooling anyone if, in fact, you are not “doing fine.” Okay, it may be fooling one person…you.

As leaders, we naturally feel a responsibility to come up with the solution, magic bullet, or strategy that will lead us to victory. Let’s be real though: to lock your office door until you derive the solution is working against you, not for you. Not only are you alienating your team by sending them the message that you don’t care about their input, you are also avoiding one resource that most likely has the answer: your team!

One key to engaging your team is to be up front and honest with them about the challenges you face. Unless your team is made up of 10 year olds, they have enough life experience to understand that things don’t always go well, that mistakes are made, and that the teams that win championships are those that bounce back – and fight back – when faced with adverse situations.

Now is the time to remind your team that not only do you want their input, you need their input – and their teamwork – to be successful.

They will only give you that teamwork if you give them the whole story.

Be honest with them. Let them know the challenges you all face, and invite them to be a part of the solution. I think you will be surprised at their willingness to trust and engage when you stop “spinning” the truth and get real with them.

Jay-Larson-50Jay Larson is an international consultant, speaker and facilitator focused on helping individuals and organizations alike, create real, lasting and positive change.

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